"[I]t's our game; that's the chief fact in connection with it: America's game; it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly as our Constitution's laws; is just as important in the sum total of our historic life." — Walt Whitman
My friends and I love baseball. Simply put. Each year, we make predictions about the playoffs and the various titles. During the season, we never fail to talk about the latest baseball news—injuries, trades, and other developments. With Opening Day the other day, our talk recently turned to great baseball books. So I’ve compiled a list of what we think are the ten best. The list runs the gamut from fiction to memoir to historical study on topics both broad and specific.
Hollywood made a film based on this book called Eight Men Out. If you feel sympathetic for Shoeless Joe when you’ve finished reading this, definitely watch Field of Dreams, which is based on another baseball book called Shoeless Joe. Anyway, it’s a good look at something that a lot of people know about or are interested in.
The Bullpen Gospels
and Out of My League by Dirk Hayhurst:
These two books are Hayhurst’s autobiographical account of his time in the minor leagues (The Bullpen Gospels) and his rookie year in the majors (Out of My League). They are honest and poignant, telling a baseball player’s story from the inside.
The Natural by Bernard Malamud:
Not quite the story that Robert Redford portrayed in the movie. This Roy Hobbs is not the good-natured boy nextdoor. He’s mean and selfish, very competitive. But, according to my boyfriend, it’s a really good read. He could not put it down.
Ball Four by Jim Bouton
: Bouton used to play for the Yankees. Then he wrote this book in 1970. This book exposed a lot of the secrets in the clubhouse, which was just not done. What happened in the clubhouse was like Vegas. He wrote about Mickey Mantle—the All-American Boy—and his demons, which had not yet been shared with the public. Bouton wrote honestly about players at a time that they were still protected in the media. This was not a popular move.
This book was even banned in some places, making it one that those not interested in baseball enjoy.
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
: This book details how Billy Beane used vast amounts of statistical data to build a team (the Oakland A’s) on a shoestring budget. The book talks about some of the more interesting characters behind the scenes of the game. Lewis is the author of The Blind Side and it one of the best non-fiction sports writers today.
Past Time: Baseball as History by Jules Tygiel
: This book closely links baseball to American history, beginning in the 1850s. It takes the reader through the major developments in the game and ties it with the broader context of American history, such as looking at how baseball survived the Great Depression of the 1930s. It’s a beautiful history book.
Only the Ball Was White by Robert W. Peterson: This book provides a pretty comprehensive look at the Negro Leagues of baseball. It includes statistics, yearly standings, biographies of some of the most famous players, and it helps tell the story of America while recounting an often forgotten part of baseball history.
Cobb: A Biography by Al Stump
: This book is really interesting. Towards the end of his life, Ty Cobb—arguably the greatest player of all time—consented to have his story written. Cobb dictated his memoirs to Stump, who was simultaneously writing his own version of Cobb’s life—that showed his as a monster. This book is important for giving an accurate portrayal of a larger than life legend.
And if you really get into reading about baseball, Baseball by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns
is the companion book to the amazing documentary that you really need to watch immediately. It’s full of essays written by the commentators of the documentary, who are historians and baseball writers, but who are first and foremost fans of the game.
Now, if only there was a novel form of my personal favorite baseball movie, Bull Durham
, I’d be on cloud nine…
Book Images via Goodreads, Yankee Stadium via Tumblr